BRCA1 and BRCA2: Testing for the Breast Cancer Gene?

Beth Brophy Health Guide
  • A provocative essay in the New York Times by journalist Aliyah Baruchin has me thinking over, once again, a question that I occasionally grapple with: If there’s no family history, but you get breast cancer, especially at an early age--43 for Baruchin, 41 for me--should you be tested for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation? The question is especially troubling if, like Baruchin and myself, you are of Askenazic Jewish descent, a group that has a disproportionately large number of women with the breast cancer gene mutation.

    Although I ultimately came down on the opposite side of the question than Baruchin, after my doctor dismissed the idea that I might carry the gene, I empathized with her reasoning process. After a breast cancer diagnosis, the last thing you want is more bad news. And carrying the gene is bad news. If you have daughters, or sisters, it means they are more at risk. And it means you must carefully consider having one or both breasts and your ovaries removed to cut down on the chance of a recurrence, or of developing ovarian cancer.
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    I also agree with her sentiment that when it comes down to it, you do anything medical science tells you that will contribute to your one and only agenda, which is staying alive. Thankfully for her, she took the test and learned she didn’t have the gene. Now I’m wondering if I should bring up the gene test idea again with my doctor and ask him why he was so quick to dismiss the idea when I asked him about it ten years ago? Or am I just borrowing trouble when there is none? The line between vigilance and paranoia is often a thin one.
Published On: November 08, 2006